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International Women's Day - From Jess Kerr to Bismah Maroof - 22 inspirational women in sports


On International Women’s Day 2022, here are 22 women in sports who have inspired with their contributions on and off the field:

1. Bismah Maroof: The Pakistan captain has been the toast of the town in the ongoing ODI Cricket World Cup along with her seven-month-old daughter Fatima. Maroof took an indefinite break from the game ahead of the birth of her child, returning shortly after to lead her side in the World Cup in New Zealand.

A photograph of her carrying Fatima along with her crib and Bismah’s kit bag went viral ahead of their clash against India – almost symbolic of women who can do it all. Bismah is also the first beneficiary of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s maternity policy for players which allows benefits for expecting mothers and fathers.

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Jess’s sister Amelia has also been vocal about her mental health struggles   –  Getty Images

2. Jess Kerr: The 24-year-old New Zealand all-rounder originally wanted to be an Olympic runner. Her sporting career was threatened by a Bell’s Palsy diagnosis, Type 1 diabetes and compartment syndrome, but she overcame the massive physical and mental tolls to emerge as one of the brightest players in the White Ferns set up.

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Jhulan Goswami (2009)   –  Getty Images

 

3. Jhulan Goswami: To be the Indian pace mainstay at 39 years of age is truly something special. She is one wicket short of becoming the joint highest wicket taker in Women’s ODI World Cups and is a cut above the rest courtesy her disciplined lines and lengths and accuracy. Starting her career at a time when the going was hard for women’s cricket in the country, Jhulan battled social and financial hurdles coming from a small town in Bengal to become the most prolific bowler in the women’s game in the country.

4. Serena Williams: The American tennis star has not played a game since Wimbledon in 2021 but it’s hard to leave her out of a list of this nature. With 23 Grand Slam titles to her name, she is the most decorated player among active players and has been in pursuit of that elusive 24th since 2017. Off the field, Williams has advocated and contributed towards endeavours to counter racism, domestic abuse and income disparity.

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5. Sania Mirza: Early in 2022, Mirza, the most successful female Indian tennis player, hinted that this would be her last season before she called time on her career. The six-time Grand Slam and 43 tour-title winner took a break for the birth of her son in 2018.

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Despite not playing professional tennis for two years, she returned with Nadiia Kichenok and won the Hobart International in 2020. After an underwhelming run at the 2020 Tokyo Games, the 35-year-old is back in the top 50 of the WTA Doubles rankings after reaching the semifinals at both the Dubai Tennis Championships and the Qatar Open.

6. Naomi Osaka: Osaka was in the news more for things off the field than on it for most parts of last year. She threw attention on player mental health after refusing to address a press conference at the French Open in 2021. She was vocal about her anxiety and depression and took a four-month-long break from the game for self care and recovery. Osaka has advocated against racial violence and injustice and for equal rights consistently. Despite the controversies and upsets at Tokyo 2020 or Australian Open this year, she was 2021’s highest-paid female athlete.

7. Simone Biles: When she decided to sit out of main medal events at the Tokyo Games citing mental health concerns, Simone Biles rattled the sporting world. By choosing to prioritise her own psychological and emotional well being over events where medals would have cemented her place as the greatest in the sport, Biles moved the conversation from awareness to action. She also gave a powerful testimony to the US Senate on the handling of the Larry Nassar case and its impact on survivors like her.

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Simone Biles at the Senate hearing on the handling of the Larry Nassar case   –  AFP

 

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8. Katie Ledecky: This American swimming ace has more individual gold medals than any other swimmer in the history of the sport, except Michael Phelps. She cemented her spot in history with four medals in Tokyo, taking her tally to 10 across three editions of the Olympics (seven golds and three silvers).

9. USWNT: The US Women’s National team has been a formidable unit on the field, with their latest success coming in 2022 when the side won its fifth SheBelieves Cup with a 5-0 win over Iceland. The reigning world champion has had more important wins off the field though with  settlement coming through in the lawsuit against US Soccer. When they filed the suit in 2016, the USWNT had alleged that despite the team had generated $20 million in revenue the year before but was paid four times less than the men. US Soccer has agreed to pay the players $24 million, including arrears and back pay, and committed to equal pay for men and women players in competitions, including the World Cup.

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10. Ritu Phogat: Commonwealth gold, U-23 Wrestling silver, a number of national championship wins – Ritu Phogat’s resume promised a sparkling career in wrestling, propping her up as a potential Olympic medal prospect. However, Phogat, haiing from the famed wrestling family in Haryana, shocked one and all when she decided to adopt mixed martial arts instead. Playing in the One Championship, Phogat went about her campaign bullishly with an impressive 9-2 record and a spot in the final of the Atomweight World Grand Prix. While she lost that final, Phogat is currently ranked 4 in the division and hopes to see the ‘Indian flag unfurled at the biggest MMA stage in the world’.

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11. Avani Lekhara: A car accident left 11-year-old Avani Lekhara with a damaged spinal chord and no mobility from the waist down. Despite the initial trauma and struggles, the para shooter overcame a host of hurdles to become India’s first female Paralympic gold medallist and the first Indian woman to win two Paralympic medals (gold in 10m Air Rifle Standing event and bronze in the 50m 3 Positions category. From taking up shooting as an activity that could help with her depression to giving the nation joy with her achievements, Avani’s journey is one of the best success stories in Indian para sports.

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12. Sarah Taylor: Revered as one of the best wicketkeepers in the history of cricket, gender irrespective, Sarah Taylor continues to push boundaries and break glass ceilings. She has been working with the Sussex men’s squad as their keeping coach since early last year. She’s recently took up a similar role with the Abu Dhabi franchise in the T10 League and will reprise those duties for Manchester Originals in The Hundred. Not only does this mean a boost to Taylor’s coaching credentials, but also to another avenue of work with established structures for women in the game.

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13. Elaine Thompson-Herah: Thompson-Herah is the fastest woman alive. But she would far prefer being the fastest woman ever. She isn’t far off. At the Wanda Diamond League last August in Eugene, the Olympic champion clocked the second-fastest 100m ever run, her time of 10.54s just five-hundredths short of the record set by American Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988. She has fended off stiff competition from the likes of Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce along the way.

14. Ebony Rainford-Brent: There was a time when Ebony Rainford Brent was the only (and the first) black woman in the England cricket team.  While players of colours have come through in the men’s set up, the women’s set up has not seen as much diversity and Rainford-Brent is trying to change that with the African Caribbean Engagement (ACE) Programme – an organisation to bring young people from African and Caribbean heritage into the game. She was honoured with an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to cricket and charity.

 

15. Mikaela Shiffrin: It’s one thing to inspire in victory and a whole other thing to manage that in a loss. Several ace athletes had disappointing runs in the Olympic season this time around and one of them was Mikaela Shiffrin. She came into Beijing 2022 on the cusp of becoming the first American skier to win three golds in a single edition of the Olympics. However, she ended up with 60 per cent of her career’s (yes, you read that right) DNFs in Beijing after failing to finish three of the six events she competed in. “Some days you lose and some days you win, and you can go through all of that and have the most turbulent times and still rise again tomorrow,” she said after one of her events.

16. Alexia Putellas: It’s Alexia Putellas’ world and we’re just living in it. The Barcelona and Spain forward has seen unparalleled success over the past year and carried her teams to impressive victories as a result. She became the first Spain international to win the Ballon d’Or since 1960 after leading Barcelona to the Treble in 2021, scoring 26 goals along the way. She was also named UEFA Women’s Player of the Year and the FIFA Best Player of the Year.

17. Khalida Popal: This Afghanistan football player took the position defender to another level. As the Taliban overturned the government and set up its regime, female sportspersons faced threats to their lives and safety. Popal worked closely with world footballers’ union Fifpro and FIFA to help members of the current women’s national team and their families to safety. Her contributions to the development of the sport as a player and a board member have been crucial to the game in the conflict-stricken nation and a bigger challenge awaits as women’s sports deals with the uncertainities of existing under the Taliban regime.

18. An San: The South Korean archer took the Tokyo Olympics by storm. Featuring in her maiden Games aged just 20, she won a gold medal in every event she competed in. However, the imperious archer found herself becoming the target of online abuse due to her short haircut with several South Korean men reportedly calling for her medals to be recalled as she was a “short haired feminist”. San was unfazed, topping the qualification round with an Olympic record-breaking score of 680 out of a possible 720 points.

19. Isabell Werth: German equestrian veteran Isabell Werth became the first rider to win seven equestrian Olympic gold medals when the country took the team dressage title at the Tokyo Olympics. The 52-year-old has accrued six team titles and one individual gold in six different Games and extended her Olympic medal haul to a record 11 and her stature as the most decorated Olympian in the sport.

20. Shui Qingxia: The China PR women’s head coach scripted a remarkable story when her team lifted the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Mumbai earlier this year.  This is China’s first title since 2006 and its ninth overall – twice as many as any other side in the competition pool. The win also marked a unique milestone for Qinxia, a five-time WAC winner as a player herself, as she became the first person to win the tournament as a player and a coach.

21. PV Sindhu: The Tokyo Olympics marked a unique milestone for Sindhu as she became the first Indian woman to win two Olympic medals, that too in consecutive Olympic editions [after a silver in Rio 2016] when she won bronze beating world no.9 He Bing Jiao of China in the third-place play-off. Sindhu has returned with medals from each of the big-ticket events like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and BWF Tour Finals in the last five years and is India’s brightest prospect in women’s badminton.

22. Leylah Fernandes/Emma Raducanu: In an all-teenager final at the US Open, England’s Emma Raducanu beat Canada’s Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 to become the first player to go preliminary qualifying rounds all the way to a major title in the professional era. The final drew eyeballs on a massive scale, so much so that Emma Raducanu was the most searched player, and in the US, the viewership numbers for the women’s final outdid those of the men’s final.





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